Following the 2006 publication of Tavis Smiley's A Covenant With Black America, which reached number one on the New York Times best-seller list, African-American communities across the country mobilized to make Smiley's "covenant" a reality. Smiley's call to action also catalyzed many grassroots organizations, nonprofits, and foundations to pay more attention to seemingly intractable problems in the African-American community and to seek solutions to those problems.
Originally conceived as a project of the National Center for Black Philanthropy in Washington, D.C., A Philanthropic Covenant With Black America picks up where Smiley's book left off. A compilation of eight essays written by leaders within the African American community, the volume paints a compelling picture of the realities of black life in America and argues that a renewed sense of philanthropy within black communities is vital to strengthening those communities.
Edited and with a thoughtful introduction and final chapter by Rodney M. Jackson, founder and president of NCBP, A Philanthropic Covenant delves into many topics related to philanthropy within the black community, including the roles of religion, civic engagement and volunteerism in shaping black philanthropy; the important role of family and friends in black communities; and the African American response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In some cases, multiple authors address the same issue; the definition of philanthropy, for example, is a theme that is revisited often, and Jackson himself provides a wonderful definition: "the thoughtful application of one's time, talent, or treasures for the greater good." Indeed, too often, a number of contributors argue, philanthropy is associated only with the extremely wealthy — the Carnegies, Rockefellers, and Gateses of the world — when, in fact, it is the simple act of giving — of one's time, skills, or financial resources — that truly defines what it means to be philanthropic.
In that spirit, the book address both micro and macro views of African American philanthropy, with a particular emphasis on the role of the individual in the black community and a passionate belief that what is good for the African American community is also beneficial — indeed, critical — to the overall health of American society. Contributors to the volume include Harold Dean Trulear ("Philanthropy and Religion"), associate professor of applied theology at the Howard University School of Divinity; Carol Brunson Day ("Families and Friends — The Power of Small Groups"), president and CEO of the National Black Child Development Institute; Jeanette M. Davis-Loeb ("Youth in Philanthropy"), founder and CEO of the Rising Oak Foundation; and Angela Glover Blackwell ("Empowering the African American Community Through Strategic Grantmaking"), founder and CEO of PolicyLink, a nonprofit that works to advance economic and social equity in America. Throughout, the reader is made aware of what needs to change in the black community and is provided with a wealth of specific recommendations and practical advice about how to effect those transformations.
Okay, I can imagine some readers choosing to pass on A Philanthropic Covenant because they don't consider themselves to be connected to or focused on the African American community. That would be a mistake. Whether the topic is community fundraising, civic engagement, the development of children and youth as a volunteer resource, or the operation of an effective giving circle, the advice and multifaceted approach to philanthropy presented by the book's contributors will benefit any individual — indeed, any nonprofit — looking to strengthen his or her cultural competency and philanthropic effectiveness.
In short, A Philanthropic Covenant With Black America is a welcome addition to the bookshelf of any grantmaker, nonprofit leader, or individual interested in community-based action to benefit society. But maybe most importantly, it reminds us that not only can anybody be a philanthropist; it is in the best interests of family, community, and the world that we all think and act philanthropically, in the truest sense of the word, as we go about our lives.